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How to Create an Affordable Wardrobe: The Art of Highs and Lows – by Jeff McAllister

Where to Splurge, Where to Spend, and Where to Thrift.

Most questions I get asked as a fashion writer inevitably involve cost. Although careful spending is something that should be encouraged in all aspects of our lives, clothes seem to be somewhere people are extra adamant about saving their hard earned dough.  As a student (I study chemistry at UVic when not contributing to CVV Magazine) I understand the crunch and have a methodology of my own. It’s called the art of highs and lows. It involves mixing expensive items with cheaper ones and comes down to knowing where to splurge, where to save and where to thrift.

Where to Splurge: Spend Money to Save Money

This is the only counterintuitive tip, I promise. It applies to those timeless every day items—straight cut denim and chinos, classic suiting, and staple footwear. The things that never go on sale.

Naturally the timelessness and versatility of these items also make them safe investments. Splurge up front to save time and money in repurchase costs: a 160 dollar pair of jeans will outlast a 50 dollar pair by enough lifetimes to make it a better financial decision in the long term. As a bonus, they’ll also look better while doing so.

The same ethos applies to protective outerwear and performance gear. If it keeps you dry, warm, comfortable or protects your eyes, it’s probably worth spending a little extra money on. If you plan on wearing a certain item three or more times per week, it probably falls within this category.

Items to splurge on:           

Classic Jeans and Chinos
Suiting
Boots or work shoes
Sunglasses
Anything you plan on wearing in the wind, snow, or rain 

Where to Save: Make up the Difference by Hitting the Sales Rack:

Most of the items you’ll find at big box (mall) stores are mass-produced and won’t be as durable as those higher quality garments mentioned above. If you’re going to skimp a bit on quality you might as well save a lot in price. The high operating volumes of stores like Club Monaco, the Gap, or Banana Republic result in high turn-over rates which means the sales rack is well stocked with both seasonally relevant and off-season items year round. Most shirts or sweaters will not be worn more than once or twice a week so bulletproof construction is not required to milk a respectable lifespan out of these garments.

In my opinion, the word ‘trend’ is a bogus marketing term. If something looks great one year it will look great the next (by that same logic, if you won’t wear it next year, it’s probably not worth your money now.) Outside of these “trend” items you can also pick up seasonal gear off-season—shorts in the winter, or jackets and heavy sweaters in the summer—and place them in storage until the appropriate weather rolls around.

Items to save on:

Shirting (extra savings on radical colours, patterns or prints)
Bold coloured denim, chords or chinos
Shorts and Swimwear (during the winter)
Jackets, Heavy Sweaters, Wool and Flannels (during the summer)

Where to Thrift: The best of both worlds

So far we’ve learned where to compromise on either price or quality. Thrift, consignment, and vintage stores are the rare places where you don’t have to sacrifice on either. Just be sure to choose items that age well in terms of both style and physical condition. Well-treated leathers, rugged tweed blazers, faded summer shirting, or denim jackets have the benefit of being both tough and timeless. In fact, many of the aforementioned items actually get better with age.

Items to Thrift on:

Denim and leather jackets
Well-kept leather shoes and belts
Rugged tweeds

To put this post into context here are two seasonally appropriate looks… 

Look 1: Lunch or Coffee Date

Where to splurge: boots ($170)
Where to save: Off-white denim ($9), shirt ($19) , sweater ($39), and belt ($9)
Where to thrift: Belt ($9) 

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Look 2: Evening Garden Party

Where to splurge: Chinos ($150), Sunglasses ($150)
Where to save:  Shirt ($30) Blazer ($19+$15 tailoring)
Where to Thrift: Loafers ($20), Belt ($5)

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Jeff McAllister